Moxie and diligence define Kirkwood’s maiden win

Kyle Kirkwood’s maiden IndyCar win at Long Beach epitomizes him as a force to be reckoned with in IndyCar.

The 24-year-old Floridian’s weekend in Long Beach showed nothing less than perfection with a pole and leading more than half the 85-lap contest.

The only hindrance to his dominance was Josef Newgarden screaming into the lead when Agustin Canapino struggled on an early restart. Kirkwood responded by overcutting Newgarden on the final pitstop to cruise to an easy win over Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean.

Kirkwood took the battle as a learning experience.

“He is so smart,” he said. “I feel like I’m good in those situations, but he’s better because there is a lot of times where I’m trying to push him to use his tires, and he’s not falling for it. I’m trying to push him to use his overtake, and he’s still not falling for it. He knows exactly when to turn it up and when to turn it back.

“It was cool to see, it really is, because he’s such a smart driver. I learned that today because I haven’t been around him that much in my previous races.”

Kirkwood’s maiden season with Andretti Autosport comes off a rocky rookie campaign with AJ Foyt Racing. He ironically scored his first top-ten last season at Long Beach but did not log a better result and saw his season hindered by seven DNFs.

This season’s openers were rough as well with accidents taking him out of contention in the first two races.

The results didn’t faze Kirkwood and acknowledged the season being a much-needed learning experience before hopping to Andretti.

“I think everything has gone perfectly, to be honest. I got everything I needed out of last year. I learned a ton. I feel like I’m now in a position that I — I think this win tells it that I can go out, prove I’m fast, execute, do all the right things in the race.”

The win also puts Kirkwood amongst an elite group of drivers that scored their first win in the legendary street race – including team owner Michael Andretti.

Kirkwood took the significance as icing on the cake.

“The next best race to win outside of this one, in my mind, is Indianapolis, right? For someone to have their first win at Indianapolis, I guess Rossi did it, yeah, wow.”

“Everything has been timed perfectly. I’m so thankful for the opportunity that they’ve given me.”

Kirkwood’s foray into IndyCar comes on the heels of a solid record in the Road to Indy development ladder with 31 wins and 18 poles. He admitted today’s win felt different.

“It almost feels like through my entire open-wheel ladder series career, I always wanted more. I’d win a bunch of races and I’d be like, Okay, I need to get to the next one, keep progressing. Today was the first time I was able to actually soak it in and acknowledge I’ve done something incredible.”

The win comes two races into his partnership with race strategist Bryan Herta, who moves over from calling races for his son Colton. Herta, who famously guided Alexander Rossi to the 2016 Indy 500 win as a rookie, recognized Kirkwood’s presentation being the first of many.

“I think it’s safe to say it won’t be the last time we see that,” said Herta. “There’s a good confidence and energy in the team, and this is a nice confirmation of that. Hopefully, we’ll have a few more like this.

“He’s easy. Despite his relative inexperience, he’s probably got the best junior record of any American driver ever. He’s a pretty seasoned guy, so he knows how to win.

“And he just executed. He hit fuel numbers and opened gaps when we needed him to. He’s a great driver. Colton is always first in my heart, but this has been fun and I’m really proud of what Kyle did.”


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